Dear Divorce Minister,
I was wondering if you could do a post about what is the morally and spiritually right thing to do in regard to telling people why the marriage broke down.
My ex-husband was a pastor and we were well known in the area where I still live. He had an affair, around the same time he was going through a transition in his beliefs, resulting in him also no longer being a Christian. In the beginning, I did try everything I could to save the marriage, and gave him many options to do so. After an incredibly painful two years, including him resuming contact with the other woman after promising me he wouldn’t, I finally took the kids and left, as he refused to leave.
Another two years after that, I filed for divorce, when he once again resumed his relationship with the same woman, and also continued to state consistently and repeatedly, that he is no longer a Christian and is now a humanist. He no longer is in ministry.He also moved away from the area.
In the meantime, people have been shocked that we are divorced. My ex-husband has sent me angry emails about how it is nobody’s business what happened in our marriage and that it is a private matter. He is furious with me that I told my parents and my close support system of a few friends I trust. I did not spread it around the community, and tell others. But, it seems word has spread and he blames me. I believe the other woman was very vocal, as the relationship eventually ended very badly with her.
My former in laws do not know that he committed adultery against me, as apparently he has denied that, and they choose to believe them. My ex-husband apparently tells people our marriage broke down due to my failings and that we simply grew apart.
I have no desire for revenge. I am choosing to forgive. I have gotten counseling and have a lot of support in my life. My healing process is well underway.
But, when people ask me what happened, I also don’t want to lie.
What is the morally and spiritually right way to handle this?
Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. – Ephesians 5:11, NIVThis is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. -Jesus speaking in John 3:19-20, NIV
Dear Healing Heart,
To begin my response, I want to point out that telling the truth is always a good place to start as a follower of Christ, and we are called to expose evil deeds to the light as Scripture says (Eph. 5:11). Just because your former husband has departed from the faith does not mean you need to violate your own conscience on this matter. You need neither lie by omission (by saying nothing and allowing people to continue believing his deceitful narrative) or by commission in agreeing with it.
Speak the truth to those who ask:
“We are divorced because I found his ongoing long-term affair with another woman unacceptable to me just as God finds it so according to Scripture.”
Of course, this will make him angry as you have already discovered. You are exposing his wicked deeds to the light, which he hates (see John 3:19-20). He is being confronted with the natural consequences of his poor choices, and he would rather intimidate you into silence than face those. You see, people tend to think poorly of people who act poorly. It looks bad for him because it is bad. Committing adultery is a matter of breaking one of the big Ten. Most people will not ask further questions after such sinful behavior is exposed to the light as I have experienced myself.
Three words of caution at this point:
1) Only speak the truth and be sure you can prove this if he chooses to sue you out of anger alleging libel or slander. I have learned this one the hard way as my ex-wife threatened a lawsuit over statements made on this blog. To defend myself, I shared her written admission to sexual infidelity to her lawyer, reminded him that a lawsuit would identify her in her home state by name (unlike on here) as an adulteress, and I had the truth, the law, and further evidence on my side. This along with some other things I wrote has settled the matter to date (plus prayer, of course). My point in sharing this story is to be careful about what you say and to stick to the truth that is provable just in case an angry ex-spouse tries to take you to court.
2) Do not editorialize. Do not name call. Just state his actions and your own reasoning for choosing divorce. If people make inferences from there about his character, that is not your responsibility. He did the deeds, and a natural consequence of committing adultery is that people tend to think poorly of someone who acted that way.
3) Resist the temptation to take on the responsibility of telling EVERYONE about his affair. That said, I see speaking the truth to those who ask as proper. And I see it as important to share our stories with trusted others as part of the healing process. We need to be known and have support. Also, do not withhold sharing the truth and your story out of fear. To do so is to live under the control of an ungodly spirit–or demon–as Scripture tells us (see II Timothy 1:7).
Now some religious people may object to my exhortation to you to tell the truth about his affair. They may misconstrue such truth-telling as punishment or unforgiving behavior. This is not so. It is not your job to protect the reputation he destroyed by his own hands in choosing to have a long-term affair. If people want to know, then they ought to be prepared to hear the truth. By refusing to share the truth to those who ask, you are agreeing to a lie. It is really that simple. Telling the truth is not punishing him or an act of unforgiveness. It is letting people in on reality–i.e. he continued to choose to cheat and that is why you are no longer married to him. How things ended is not your shame to bear.
As to the assertion that this is nobody’s business, I will point out such an assertion apparently has not stopped him from slandering your good character with others. I see this as an intimidation technique to keep you silent, isolated, and bearing the shame that rightfully he ought to own.
Furthermore, his assertion about your marriage ending being nobody’s business is downright ridiculous if you think about it. Society has a vested interest in marriages. After all, we have to have witnesses in order to get married. Adultery and divorce affect more than just the couple. When pastors divorce, the community is especially hurt feeling the pain and confusion of their leaders’ relationship ending. So, it is a kindness to let them know what really happened for their own grief processes. I think this is doubly so for those who care enough to ask us. They need to know the relationship they clearly supported did not “just end” but ended for good and Biblical reasons. This truth sharing also reinforces Biblical teachings on adultery and divorce for the Christian community.
Thank you, Healing Heart, for writing into me. I hope this gives you some direction in navigating these tricky waters. Remember this is not your shame to bear and telling the truth–especially to our supporters–is both wise and godly.